Many residents in bustling cities across India woke up to clean air, blue skies and deserted roads, during the COVID-induced lockdown – something they generally are not used to experiencing. This relief was however short-lived as lifting of lockdown in various phases brought back the status quo of air pollution and traffic congestion.
The pollution situation further aggravated in cities like Delhi and Jaipur, where the annual cycle of stubble burning in the surrounding States, leading to fatal levels of air pollution and toxic smog covering these cities.
This highlights a core problem that has been normalised over the years which results in increasing the number of vehicles of all types and sizes congesting city roads and releasing emissions that adds to the already lethal levels of air pollution.
Electrification of the transport sector is one way to resolve this problem in a sustainable manner. In the Indian context, as well as across the globe, policymakers are actively considering this idea and undertaking relevant steps to facilitate the adoption of EVs. More than half of the Indian states have already prepared a draft or finalised a state EV policy, with others proactively planning to implement an EV policy.
Rajasthan, falling under the latter group, is taking up this task on a priority basis. The transport secretary has said on multiple virtual platforms that an EV policy is being finalised through closed room discussions with domain experts and other departments. The Rajasthan Electricity Regulatory Commission has already rolled out an order for preferential EV tariff of Rs 6 per unit. Private companies and public authorities are vouching for setting up EV charging stations. Companies like Morris Garages (MG Motors) and Tata Motors are selling their EVs in Jaipur and the transport department has been regulating the registration of e-rickshaws, which have become a major lifeline for last-mile connectivity in city-areas. Despite these developments, the footfall of EVs in the State resembles the national picture of marginal EV uptake.
At this juncture, it is crucial to understand certain basic arguments related to this disruptive transformation which needs to be addressed to achieve the envisaged outcomes of a clean and efficient transport sector.
It is paramount to understand and incorporate local conditions and factors while designing policies on electric mobility. For example, if traffic congestion is the problem, then electrified public transport that caters to the needs of daily commuters should be a priority. Undue focus on private vehicles might dilute this endeavour. Given that local bus transit used to cater to around 2 lakh Jaipurites daily before lockdown, an EV policy should factor ground-based needs like this, to identify ‘fit for purpose’ vehicle segments. These demand-side insights will send the right market signal for intelligence reports that usually dictate the strategy of vehicle manufacturers and corporates in the mobility sector.
The next fundamental issue that acts as a barrier to EV adoption is the economics around these vehicles. For most EVs, barring a few low-cost 2-wheelers, the upfront cost of purchasing them is higher than their conventional counterpart, while the cost of operating them is significantly low. Bridging this initial viability gap will lead to long-term financial savings for the consumers using battery-operated vehicles. Policymakers must not only bridge the viability gap of priority vehicles through a slew of incentives and subsidies, but also scale the financial incentives in an optimal manner, to balance state revenues and purchasing power of targeted consumers.
Finally, the uptake of such green technologies depends on end consumers at large. The ‘problem of commons’ seems to be plaguing the prospects and acting as first-line barriers to enhanced uptake of EVs. ‘If it is everyone’s problem, then it’s no one’s problem’ is a quote that best represents this dogma. Thus, demand-side market signals are extremely crucial in determining the pricing of EVs and related services like charging and battery. As we aim to achieve an electrified mobility scenario, it is important that the vehicles are manufactured and operated at a price-parity which most Indians could afford.
In this context, Rajasthan already enjoys a strategic advantage of being situated close to the mega automobile manufacturing cluster in Manesar and nearby major markets like Delhi. These can be facilitated to enhance domestic manufacturing capacity and competitiveness of electronic goods, cells, and batteries, and other EV components, and sell these outputs in the emerging markets domestically.
Although EVs seem a no-brainer given the environmental and health emergency today, some determining factors for its growth include political will, investor confidence, business viability and most importantly, consumer behaviour. Only collective and coherent actions from all stakeholders will help us sustain the clean air and blue skies.